Thursday, January 21, 2010

Learning From This Winter & Last

As we grow as a business, winter becomes more and more challenging. Our first winter here, we had no functional exterior water source, so it all came from the kitchen sink (I am serious, it sucked). At least this year, we have a functional water system with several hydrants (one right next to the barn) and we have a frost-free water source for livestock. That being said, we have a long way to go in order to really do some larger scaling-up and other items that will just make Janice and my life function with less stress.

Hay Supply & Handling
First, I need to increase my hay supply. I have been buying small square bales because they are convenient, but you pay for that convenience. Small square bales really have little place in production agriculture unless you make them yourself. There are also some hay auctions that I could be tamping into at my wife's work if I could handle large round bales. To increase out hay supply, I seeded down all of our crop land (13 aces) in June 2009, but the results does not look promising (it could be a failed seeding). I plan on getting a 3pt bale spear so the tractor can move large round bales and handle purchasing hay more efficiently.

New Livestock Facilities
I must finish my fencing. I simply can not continue as I have been with temporary fencing. Temporary fencing on reels and netting will be a large part of my rotations, but I must have more internal fencing and finish my exterior fencing. As my herds grow, I will need more small (relatively cheap) portable structures. I have plans for building two simple animal bedding sheds on skids so I can move them with the tractor.

Existing Livestock Facilities
I got frustrated the other day and cut the only entry to out barn off its hinges. I could only open it a few inches. The door now just sits in its frame with a block against it. I have to replace that door, add eaves to the parts of the building that do not have it, insulate the point where the soil makes contact with the soul on the north side, and modify one of the doors on the south side of the building so it can be opened from the outside (that would give me two doors into the building).

Snow Moving
I need to move snow with more then just a shovel. I am looking at a 3pt blade and a pair of tire chains for the tractor. I should be able to bust drifts and get Janice to the pavement (otherwise I have to wait a long time for the county to break us out) in the winter and clear the south drive.

Farm Vehicle Access
The house and buildings on this farm are located in a small dip between to hills. This protects us from much of the north and west wind, but we struggle with water flow through the farm and just getting up out our two steep driveways (one is paved & one is rock). The paved drive way is the shallower of the two and goes into our one car garage and our rock one goes down to our retail building and is really quite steep. I want to build a good size carport north of the garage so we can park two more vehicles up there and allow our customers to park up there if they like. I am working on shifting the farm south to a field access point. In order to push this process along, I am planning on rocking that access in 2010.

This is a pretty large post, but much of what I want to work on in 2010 are these items here. A lot of this hinges on a functional tractor. I have inherited a tractor that could use a little TLC and I am not much of a mechanic. I have been working on the tractor and if the repairs I have made are good enough I should have it running shortly. Sorry for the long post, but this post has been on my mind for some time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Would you like Ice with that?

Winter thought we were getting off to easy, with several weeks of decent weather, so it rolled out an ice storm. I actually would rather have ice 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of ice over snow, simply because it goes away sooner when sun strikes it. I am sure the ice is more dangerous to be out in and drive in. As long as I have power on the farm and Yak Tracks on my shoes, I don't worry. I figured I would share some images from the storm. The rain came from the east with strong wind pushing it, so many things are only coated on just one side.

Normally, this blue spruce is very proportionally balanced.

Ice off the doorknob to our retail shop.

The left side of the bale faces west and the right side faces east.
The ice made loading hay onto the feed sled, a bit more interesting this morning.

View of the timber line on the edge of the farm clearing.

Several days this week have been spent clearing out a bit of timber just south of our barn. I want to build our livestock corral there and another building in the future. I also trimmed numerous black walnut trees up that have market lumber potential in 30 to 40 years (I know way out there). They will be worth much more if they are pruned to grow very strait.  Even tough I trimmed many of the walnuts, I left several with more of a outward reaching growth pattern, typical of a savannah, in their original form. I like the aesthetic that they can create when they do grow with very wide reaching limbs. but there timber is worth less. The chainsaw will be out of commission for a few days, as the chain is quite dull. There are a lot of sticks on the ground, but I have not seen whole trees and limbs that the storm had claimed. I will let you know how things come out of this. It is supposed to get much better on Friday and Saturday. I look forward  to getting more things done outside.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January Thaw

Maybe those warm thoughts payed payed out, but it has been pretty nice for the last week and it looks pretty nice into the foreseeable future. By pretty nice, I mean highs in the mid to upper 30's (1.5 to 4.5 C). That has allowed me to go back outside and get some work done.

Friday saw the chainsaw come out. Jim (my super helper) and I started cleaning up a number of trees south of our barn. I want to remove some less desirable trees and help out the trees I want to keep (mostly walnuts and very productive mulberry trees) by pruning them and reducing the competition. On Saturday, I finished some wood fencing just west of the barn. Jim is coming back out on Monday and we are going to move the cattle portable shelters and finish working on the timber south of the barn. 

The cattle have been inside the barn since they decided to break out of their pen on the evening of January 8th. I got home from the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference and  I found that the cattle waterer had frozen solid and my cattle were gone. To make matters worse, Janice and I had after dinner plans with our neighbors and it was the coldest evening we had this year. I tracked the cattle through the snow and found them eating on one of the large bales of hay not far from the barn. I got an area set-up inside the bard and then re-tracked down the cattle (they moved) and got them inside. Needless to say, we were late to our evening gathering (only an hour late). 

I want to get some temporary fencing set-up this week so the cows can go back outside, but I am planning on keeping them much closer to the building this time and using the frost-fee waterer that I installed back in September. The lambs are getting much larger and I want to be able to put the sheep outside on the days with decent weather. It has been a busy week and I hope to have many other things to report on here soon. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thinking Warm Thoughts

On the farm we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground. There is a storm rolling in today with another 6 inches expected on top of what we already have and high wind tonight (40 mph 64 kmph) to blow it around and add drifting to our current weather challenges. This is not unusual, the real problem has been the frigid weather that won't let up. It has been about 20 degrees below normal. Our nightly lows have been around -2 to -10 F (-18 to -23 C) or more for the last week. Our highs have rarely broken 10 F (-12 C). Friday will have a high of -2 F and a low of -12F (-18 to -24 C). We have had to fire-up the space heater that is stowed in our craw space, and open the wall behind the bath tub to keep pipes from freezing. I kid that our heater takes little 5 minute cat naps through out the day. We are having our walls injected with foam insulation in the spring (can't do it sooner as the foam is water soluble) so I hope we do not have to live through another winter with a very cold house.

This weather is especially hard on our livestock. My primary concern is the cattle since they live outside. I re-bedded their potable huts with straw so they can try to warm up out of the snow. I also unloaded a large stack of small square bales next to the cattle pen to make my life easier in the coming days.

The sheep are still inside adding heat to a frigid building that the poultry live in. The lambs are doing fine and looking great. We loose a few eggs every day to having them freeze solid and split in half, but not so many eggs that we are hurting.

Yesterday, I bought and unloaded 48 small-square bales of hay in the building and formed the aforementioned stack next to the cattle pen. I just barely made it to Janice's ultrasound in the afternoon. I got the truck stuck and had to break out the tire chains my mother got me for Christmas to liberate my self. I know the likely sex of our child, but we are holding that information close to our breast until the baby shower in mid-February when Janice will have a big reveal.

Out the window, I see the the snow has just started. The Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference is at the end of the week and I am looking forward to catching up with a few frinds and colleges.